Poems New & Selected


84 pages
Contains Index
ISBN 0-86492-029-6




Reviewed by W.J. Keith

W.J. Keith is a retired professor of English at the University of Toronto and author A Sense of Style: Studies in the Art of Fiction in English-Speaking Canada.


Frederick Candelaria has written four previous books of verse, and the volume under review selects from these while adding 34 new poems. I confess that I had not encountered his earlier works and was therefore surprised at the appearance of a “Selected.” And I am still a bit puzzled. The poems are brief (they hardly ever extend over a page), and each makes a definite point; they are mainly written in the now customary “free verse,” though with a number of half-rhymes and verbal echoes to suggest traditional poetic form and discipline. But I finish readings of both individual poems and volume with a sense of dissatisfaction. Something is lacking, and I think that, ultimately, what I miss is an individual and flowing rhythm. Most of the poems (for me, at least) begin promisingly but end flatly. There are always some good lines but generally some lame ones as well (in Robert Graves’s terminology, too much of the putty remains visible).

A brief introduction by Peter Thomas lists Candelaria’s “central human concerns: the games and devastations of love, stalking nightmares, brief explosions of comic absurdity, riddles of language, the eternal reassurance of music.” Of these, the riddles of language work least successfully. Thus of 1960s flower-children he writes: “after pot / they went to seed.” We’ve all had such bright ideas and been temporarily seduced, but a poet of Candelaria’s experience (for this is a new poem) ought to have realized that it’s too slick to be worth preserving. One admires the verbal interest that gave rise to it but deprecates the result. And a similar response is evoked by many of these poems. I would have been more impressed had this been a first volume; for a “selected” it can only be described as decidedly minor poetry.


Candelaria, Frederick, “Poems New & Selected,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 23, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/35899.